Happy Birthday KLM – 100 Years In The Skies

Today marks a very special occasion for KLM, the Dutch flag carrier. The airline today celebrates its 100th birthday. The occasion marks the second centenary this year following British Airways’ 100th birthday back in August.

KLM centenary, 100 years, Royal Dutch Airlines
KLM today celebrates its 100th birthday. Photo: KLM


Obviously, KLM’s roots stretch back to around 100 years ago. Several parties were interested in establishing an airline following a 1919 aviation exhibition in Amsterdam. In September of that year, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands granted the proposed airline the title of “Royal”.

The airline was officially founded 100 years ago today, on the 7th of October 1919, by eight Dutch businessmen. However, it was to be a little while longer before KLM took to the skies…

First flight

The first flight of a KLM aircraft did not occur until over half a year later in 1920. KLM carried two journalists and newspapers from London to Amsterdam on the 17th of May, marking its first flight. This was achieved using a British registered aircraft leased from British Airways’ predecessor, Air Transport And Travel.

KLM Centenary, 100 Years, Royal Dutch Airlines
KLM’s first flight was operated with a leased Air Transport And Travel aircraft. Photo: The Flight magazine archive from Flightglobal via Wikimedia

Compared to modern standards, KLM’s first-year statistics would be fairly unimpressive. However, considering that KLM was one of the first airlines, using much smaller planes than today, its statistics aren’t bad. In its first year, the airline carried 440 passengers accompanied by 22 tonnes of air freight.

Impressive growth

In the past 100 years, KLM has grown from a small carrier to a well recognized global airline. From its blue livery to iconic photos of the Boeing 747 landing in St Marteen, KLM’s brand is known around the world.

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KLM’s Boeing 747 landing at St Marteen is an icon photo. Photo: alljengi via Flickr

Today KLM operates a fleet of 120 aircraft. While not the largest fleet by any means, it is still not small. The airline is currently in the process of retiring its Boeing 747 aircraft. Earlier this year we saw one aircraft become a hotel centerpiece.

The future

KLM is currently preparing to enter a new phase of operations. The airline is currently in the process of retiring its iconic Boeing 747 aircraft. Meanwhile, the carrier is welcoming several new Boeing 787s. While KLM had also been due to introduce the Airbus A350 to its fleet, a swap with sister airline Air France saw KLM scrap the aircraft type from its plans.

KLM centenary, 100 years, Royal Dutch Airlines
KLM is working to design a “Flying V” aircraft with TU Delft. Photo: KLM

Meanwhile, KLM is currently working with TU Delft on plans to develop a “Flying V” aircraft for the future. The proposed V design is said to be 20% more fuel efficiency than an Airbus A350. KLM signed an agreement with TU Delft to work together developing the aircraft. The airline will contribute to TU Delft’s research into the Flying-V.

What’s your favorite memory of KLM’s last 100 years? Let us know in the comments!